October 8, 2016

U of L’s campus escort services receive criticism

U of L Crime

U of L Crime

By Eric Matthews–

The University of Louisville’s campus escort service provides free rides within four blocks of campus and has been touted as a valuable tool to keep students safe. But recently, many students have had to wait between 45 minutes to more than two hours for their ride to arrive – far more than the 15 to 20 minutes the Department of Public Safety (DPS) aims for.

SGA Services Vice President Lauren Greenwell said she received between 15 and 20 separate complaints about the escort within a two-day period last month. In addition the excessive wait times, some students shared grievances about dispatchers treating them disrespectfully and even failing to answer the phone.

“This is a pretty big issue that we do need to face,” Greenwell said. “The university does need to improve some aspect of it very soon.”

ULPD Major Aaron Graham said that DPS has been aware of wait time issues for at least 8 months. He cited several contributing causes, including driver unavailability, excess calls and the lengthening nighttime.  DPS was looking for solutions, but a meeting called by Greenwell on Sept. 21 brought the problem to the forefront.

Greenwell discussed students’ concerns with Dean of Students Michael Mardis, CFO Harlan Sands and ULPD Police Chief Wayne Hall. They were “very alarmed” at what they heard, according to Greenwell, and were eager to find solutions.

One measure being taken is making sure dispatchers and officers understand the protocol ensuring that callers use the escort service properly. Graham said that many callers want pick ups off-campus, do not have a university ID or only want to travel short distances. Such misuses of the service clog the queue for those who need to use it as it was intended.

The protocol also requires dispatchers to get a contact number for the caller to improve customer service. Graham said that it will be about a month before data on the protocol’s effectiveness becomes available.

“The number one thing is going to be ensuring the best customer service from the initiation of the phone call to the point of pickup,” Graham said. “We think that if we do that, we can reduce [student wait times].”

Students can also be part of the solution by using the Rave Guardian app, which is free to download. When walking somewhere at night, the app lets users set a timer for how long it should take them to arrive. If the time elapses without the user confirming their arrival or resetting the timer, the app will automatically alert ULPD and provide the user’s location through the phone’s GPS. It also has a silent alarm that can be activated manually.

Graham explained that students who only need to travel a short distance should use the app rather than calling an escort, thus shortening the queue and decreasing wait times for those who need to travel farther. Currently, the app only has between 300 and 400 users, far fewer than what both DPS and SGA are hoping to reach.

“Students and the administration need to come together, and it’s good that we discussed these issues together,” Greenwell said. “But I think the administration does need to hold a tighter scope on everything that’s happening, and they do need to combat these issues.”

The escort service gives about 7,500 rides annually. Its principle vehicles are a van which can hold six passengers and a car supplied by the parking office. On-duty ULPD officers also provide escorts, especially past 9:30 p.m., with each officer averaging two to three runs in a given shift.

To arrange for an escort, call (502)852-611. For more information on staying safe on campus, visit louisville.edu/cardsafety.

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